Trump II Architect Russ Vought Embraces A Christian Nationalist Vision For America

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One of the key architects of Donald Trump’s plans for a second administration has been quite public about the driving force animating that radical agenda: a “cold civil war” to be won by those willing to use “biblical principles” to “instruct government” to do what the MAGA right wants.

Russ Vought, a head of the Office of Management and Budget in Trump’s first term and a big player in the planning for a potential second Trump term, made the case for this Christian nationalist vision of America in a little-noticed speech on Capitol Hill last year. The growing emphasis in pro-Trump circles on a strict conservative view of Christianity combined with an aversion to pluralism define not only what policies a future government should adopt, but American nationhood itself. It does so at the explicit exclusion of other faiths and some Christian denominations.

Vought gave the speech last September as part of a series called the “Theology of American Statecraft.” The speech was devoted to the “Christian Case for Immigration Restriction.”

There, Vought laid out the litany of extreme Trump border policies and proposals that have now become familiar: family separation, mass deportation, curtailing legal immigration. But he did so in explicitly Christian nationalist terms, at one point making an Old Testament reference to argue that the United States should model its immigration policy on the Tribe of Israel, welcoming newcomers “so long as they accepted Israel’s God, laws, and understanding of history.”

He gave the Christian nationalism talk at one of a series of events held by American Moment, a right-wing nonprofit that lists among its top priorities families “rooted in faith and tradition,” law and order, and immigration restriction. American Moment has been holding the “Theology of American Statecraft” series since 2022, composed of events targeted at fusing various forms of Christianity with Trumpian right-wing politics.

Vought himself is a heavy hitter in Trump world. After overseeing the OMB for the final years of the Trump administration, he now runs the Center for Renewing America, where he’s playing a key role in drafting a potential agenda for Trump II.

During Vought’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raised an article in which Vought wrote that “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

He’s risen the ranks in Trumpworld since then. As OMB director, he drafted a memo railing against diversity training, and, once ensconced at his think tank, circulated an anti-critical race theory organizing guide. There, Vought has played a key role in developing Project 2025, the ambitious plans for a second Trump administration laid out by a group of people around the GOP candidate. In that capacity, Vought is advocating for civil service protections to be abolished; he suggested to the New York Times last year that most conservative attorneys were too timid for a second Trump administration, saying “the Federalist Society doesn’t know what time it is.”

Christian nationalists are playing an increasingly influential role in the conservative movement, and appear poised to exert a huge amount of influence if Trump wins the November election. Vought is at the vanguard of that effort. In the speech, whose existence Politico reported in a story this month, he drove home a key point: The most extreme border proposals in a future Trump administration would be cast as “Christian-based.”

What Vought outlined in the speech is an approach to politics that offers no quarter for disagreement. It’s totalizing, framed in the kind of Manichean divide which fits more in stories from the Old Testament or in sermons from fundamentalist pastors than in typical political discourse.

Vought didn’t return TPM’s requests for comment.

Douglas Wilson, an extremely controversial right-wing pastor from Moscow, Idaho, followed Vought as a speaker at the same event in the basement of the Senate’s Dirksen Office building.

Wilson likes to adopt a just-asking-questions tone when writing about topics that are most likely to draw fierce blowback. He’s written that abortion is “at least as great an evil as slavery was” as part of a way to ask a broader question which many will see as needlessly provocative: If we are unwilling to fight a civil war to end abortion now, should we accept that the Union was right to fight to end slavery in the 1860s?

Wilson has written in separate fora that “sodomy” is worse than “slavery” and that the country should consider introducing blasphemy laws. Wilson told TPM in a phone interview that he regards the American state as the “biggest blasphemer,” and that it’s an elaborate metaphor to argue for laws restricting federal power. When TPM asked why he insisted on using that metaphor, Wilson replied that as a pastor, he thinks “in theological categories.”

At the Theology of American Statecraft lecture, Vought presented a vision of a country facing a holy struggle. The nation is beset on one side by a left that, in Vought’s description, “perverts God’s standard of justice” by refusing to enforce border laws, and on the right by well-meaning co-belligerents too weak “to occupy the moral high ground.”

Wilson followed up Vought by casting the immigration issue as “one skin botch (sic) among many on a diseased body.”

Vought went further in training Christian nationalist rhetoric on the immigration issue. Towards the end of the speech, he brought up what’s long been an aim of many on the Trumpist right – reducing legal immigration – and cast it again in life-or-death, religious terms.

The country is mired in a “cold civil war,” Vought said. And just as a “compassionate family does not generally adopt a child in the midst of crisis,” so the United States cannot continue to accept immigrants. He dismissed that view as “compassion to a disembodied neighbor,” and instead that the right needs to adopt the principle of “discernment.”

Vought pushed back against the view among some evangelicals that immigration is a means to “reverse secularization in the United States.”

He described it as an attempt to “frame out a disposition that welcomes endless immigration instead of thinking about the effects of political community in which we live.”

It’s part of a broader call for limiting legal immigration; a policy of “restriction” that Vought based explicitly on a reading from the Old Testament, that “outsiders could join Israel so long as they accepted Israel’s God, laws, and understanding of history.”

He added, by analogy, that “a church doesn’t accept membership for people who don’t accord to their statement of faith.”

David Gushee, a Baptist pastor who opposes Christian nationalism, told TPM that he found the proposal shocking and self-evidently discriminatory.

“The fact that a lot of the immigrants that come from Latin America are Christians, Catholic, or whatever, doesn’t seem to matter to those who are opposed to it,” Gushee said. “And so then if it’s not about religion, it must be about something else.”

Vought brought up other episodes from Trump-era border enforcement during the lecture. At one point, he hit out at evangelical preacher Franklin Graham for criticizing the Trump administration for implementing its family separation policy. Vought justified the policy as run-of-the-mill criminal law enforcement: “Not unlike when a parent commits a crime and goes to jail, it leads to a tragic separation of families.”

The appearance of Wilson, the controversial Idaho pastor, remains remarkable. Wilson’s views have led to him being disinvited from university conferences over the course of his career, and reportedly to the defeat of one state Senate bill whose drafting was tied to an organization that Wilson founded.

Now, Wilson is appearing alongside an important player in a presidential administration that could take power next year.

Wilson told TPM that he had only ever met Vought at the American Moment event. He defended Christian nationalism in broad terms, saying that, in his view, secularism has failed and that what was left to determine is which faith-based moral system will become the victor in the public square. That will necessarily lead to exclusion, he said.

“Every system is exclusionary,” he said. “It’s not whether you exclude, it’s who you exclude and on what basis.”

“I’m not trying to get us into a Handmaid’s Tale situation,” Wilson added. “What I’m trying to do is get back to America in 1892 when there was a Supreme Court decision saying that America was a Christian nation.”

Gushee, the Baptist pastor, remarked that Wilson and those like him had become less “fringe” over the years.

“They didn’t matter, but now they matter because the conversation has moved in their direction. And I think Trump has a lot to do with that, but it’s not only him,” Gushee said.

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